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HARRY OLIVER'S DESERT RAT SCRAP BOOK
Story by the editor
[Complete with original typos]
I have discovered truth is about as funny as exaggeration. When I wrote, "The wildflowers at Fort Oliver were so thick this spring you could hardly see the discarded beer cans," it was true. When Mary Paige writes in the Wickenburg Sun, "The gnats are driving us gnuts," one knows it's true. After six or seven efforts to start telling this story of my Desert Rat Scrap Book I have decided that the truth is by far the funniest story.
I came to the West in 1909. My first job was running a string of burros for Uncle Sam's Forest Service. I made notes, pasted scrap books, and listened to tall tales of the Desert West. Years ago I was impressed by something Mark Twain said, show me a man without a scrap book and I will show you a failure. Mark's words and a close study of the habits of the Desert Pack Rat made me decide on a fitting name for my paper: The Desert Rat Scrap Book.
My story is about like those of most true Desert Rats. Thirty-seven years ago I homesteaded in the desert and for the first time in my life had time to think, time for healthy, happy, simple hobbies, like building with adobe, learning about the Oldtimers, prowling old trails to old mines and ghost towns. This life just gets you set to write because you want to tell others how much fun it is; so in 1932 I sent Life Magazine twelve desert short stories and in two weeks got a check for $300 for six of them (I never did as well again), and two months later Life, as a humor magazine, folded. By 1937 I had about twenty-five stories published (many I had to give away), so with them I made up a book called Desert Rough Cuts and paid one of those vanity printers to print it (with woodcut illustrations of my own).
In 1940 I wrote a daily desert column for fifteen California and Arizona newspapers. After 9 months I had lost all but one paper, The Bisbee Evening Ore, and ended the year at $1.50 a week, but was lucky and got on the payroll of Howard Hughes' production, "The Outlaw," at Moencopi, Hopi Village, Arizona; so the last few weeks netted me $301.50 per week; but the Evening Ore subscribers got their copies each day—and on time too.
To be very frank, my writing wasn't in demand until I became my own publisher, but now with "me the publisher" very much interested in "my stories," I am fast getting a name as a Desert Folklorist. Perhaps it comes from my association with big names of tall tale tellers here in the Southwest, Fred McKinney of the Brewery Gulch Gazette, Foxtail Johnson, Bert Fireman, S. Omar Barker, Calico Fred, T. R. (Death Valley) Goodwin, Matt Weinstock, J. Frank Dobie, and then, too, Mark Twain and Bill Rogers show up in almost every edition.
To really go nuts about the desert one must be dragged away from it every so often. In these 37 years I was sent (by motion picture companies) to Italy, Ireland, France, Mexico, Canada and Tahiti. Always I counted the days, wanting to get back to the simplicity of the good old desert.
Anyone that publishes a desert publication could easily develop an ego that doesn't belong in the desert, for he is sure to receive as much fan mail as a movie star (the desert just plain fascinates people). Some of my mail makes me very, very happy. This experience I have had several times—a man sends me his pet story—I print it—don't change a word—then in a week or so I get a letter from him telling me his story is funnier in my paper than it ever was before. After a great deal of study I find this to be true. It's due to the format of my paper, the old type, old woodcuts, the stories before and after his story, this all helps—(then too, I am always sure to add the writer's name to his story).
Some of my gags I can't leave out, as when I do my subscribers ask me to put them back—here they are bunched up.
Only one editor would say "His paper is not entered as second class mail, because it's a first class newspaper. It is the smallest newspaper in the world and the only 5-page one—a newspaper that grows on you as you turn each page—excepting page 5. And it's the only newspaper in America you can open in the wind. Its editor boasts that for so small a paper he gives you a generous amount of typographical errors, and that all news printed has been tested by time" . . . true, and my readers think they are funny.
Readers ask me how's the paper doing? Meaning, of course, is the Desert Rat Scrap Book a success? Now as I see it, there is more than one fair way to live; so is there more than one kind of success.
Judging the Desert Rat Scrap Book by what it is, not by what other papers make, or try to, I think as a one-man operation I have a peacheroo, my readers and writers make it that way. You have sent my little publication pirouting along the trail; it may not have arrived as yet but it's traveling hopefully, trailbroke and happy.
Over 70 per cent of my readers send in a new subscripton (sometimes 10) along with their renewal. Must be the sunshine in it or maybe the price of it; 50¢ a year.
Fifteen thousand of the last packet were sold, one-half of them in small desert towns—to REAL DESERT RATS—3070 sent to subscribers east of the Mississippi—50 to a dealer in London, England (my only wholesale account outside the U. S.)—67 subscribers in Australia, 361 subscibers in Canada, subscribers in Mexico, Alaska, Philippines, Afghanistan, Hawaii, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ireland, Germany, Egypt, the Union of South Africa and only one in China.
FUN? SURE IT'S A LOT OF FUN. Just a little piece of wrapping paper folded three times, and my readers seem to value them and send for back packets.
I am not going to let my list get much bigger. When I have to have help, OR PAY INCOME TAX, I am not going to take any more subscribers. WHY SHOULD I? Takes me a week and a half to address and wrap this many. I could do it in a week if I did not have to go out and sell the local trade to get stamps to mail the wholesale orders.